'He did his job': Strider goes 7 strong, but mistakes prove costly

October 8th, 2023

ATLANTA -- Facing the pressure of improving upon his appearance in the 2022 postseason, responded in the Braves’ 3-0 loss to the Phillies in Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Saturday night at Truist Park.

MLB’s leader in wins (20) and strikeouts (281) fanned eight and allowed two runs (one earned) on five hits, two walks and one hit batsman across seven innings, but two costly mistakes doomed Atlanta. Still, it was a much better performance than Strider’s first career playoff game last Oct. 14, when he allowed five runs over 2 1/3 innings in his first start after a four-week layoff due to a strained left oblique.

Strider caused 22 swings and misses on Saturday -- the third most in a postseason outing of 95 or fewer pitches since 2008. That ranks behind only the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw (24) in Game 2 of the '20 NL Wild Card Series and the Nationals' Patrick Corbin (24) in Game 4 of the '19 NL Championship Series.

Strider’s four-seam fastball and slider combo was in full effect. His fastball averaged 97.7 mph, per Statcast, which exceeded his regular-season mark (97.3 mph), and the 24-year-old used it to put away five Phillies hitters. His slider resulted in 13 whiffs, tying the most swings and misses on that pitch against Philadelphia in his career.

It was a near-dominant performance for Strider except for two critical moments. In the fourth inning, he earned the second error of his career on a pickoff attempt to first base. With two outs and an 0-2 count against Bryson Stott, Strider tried to pick off Bryce Harper, but he overthrew first baseman Matt Olson, allowing the Phillies star to advance to second. That mistake set up Stott’s single to score Harper as the go-ahead run.

“It's actually something that I had been working on this week, just trying to improve my pickoff move,” Strider said. “Do something that maybe gives me a chance to limit the running game. And it's not something that I'd had a ton of success doing in the past -- picking off -- but [Harper] ran the pitch before, and I didn't want to give him a good jump. And unfortunately, I threw it away, and he got there anyway.”

Strider’s error was reminiscent of his first career error, when he tried to pick off Brandon Marsh at first base in the third inning in Game 3 of the NLDS last year.

In the sixth inning, Harper crushed a first-pitch slider low in the zone from Strider for a home run. The homer had a projected exit velocity of 115.3 mph, which was the hardest-hit batted ball off the right-hander in his career.

“He's a big gun-type player,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said of Harper. “He's a Hall of Famer. It doesn't surprise me when he does great stuff. You’ve got to really make pitches on him.”

At 94 pitches (63 strikes) through seven innings, Strider was seen having a heated conversation with Braves pitching coach Rick Kranitz in the dugout after being told he wouldn’t be going back out for the eighth.

“I was just having a personal conversation with [Kranitz],” Strider said. “Unfortunately for me, sometimes my conversations are on camera, and I'm guilty of showing emotion when I speak at times. So yeah, I mean, just having a conversation with Kranny. Some of it wasn’t even about baseball.”

“He told me he wanted to stay -- he does every time I go through it,” Snitker added. “‘How many starts did you make this year?’ Every time he comes out of the game, most of the time, he's yelling at me that he wants to stay. And he said, ‘I'm good, I'm good.’

“He did his job. He did a great job. And there wasn't any reason to continue to push him. ... The adrenaline gets going. These guys are competitors. I wouldn't expect him just to come in a game like that and want to come out of the game.”

With the Braves down 1-0 in the best-of-five series, Strider will have to hope his teammates can give him another chance to take the mound again. There’s an off-day Sunday before Game 2 on Monday night, so Atlanta can use the righty on regular rest for a potential Game 4 on Thursday or Game 5 on Saturday. The Braves will just have to force that scenario.

“It sucks to lose at home,” Strider said. “I feel like that's a place where we have the advantage. ... [We] get a day off tomorrow and come back and play another one and try to even it up. Fortunately, we're familiar with playing in Philadelphia, and so I like our chances.”